The Tropicana Group of Companies: Providing Homes to Fast-growing Communities
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The Bowling family maintains a group of businesses under the “Tropicana” umbrella. These include three divisions: a single-family home building company (Tropicana Homes), a multi-family housing development division (Tropicana Building Corporation) and a property management division (Tropicana Properties), the latter two of which provide rent-controlled apartments for the low- and moderate-income markets in El Paso County, Texas. Run by the Bowling family for three generations, the Tropicana companies have been an integral part of the El Paso home-building market for over 60 years, providing over 10,000 locals with new homes throughout the company’s history.
“Our grandfather started building [single-family] homes in El Paso in 1950, and my dad and uncle eventually incorporated the business,” explains Robert L. Bowling IV, current president of Tropicana Building Corporation. “We’re mostly in the tax credit market as far as the apartments go. We have a total of 1,700 units and only about 50 of them are floating rent properties. We also run a property management division with on-site staff.
“We have averaged between 150 and 200 multi-family units built every year for the past decade, and about 250 single-family homes for sale as well,” continues Bowling. “All of the construction management, warranty inspection and property management is handled in-house, but not very much building. We do own a separate pavement company – so the asphalt, paving, earthwork, site and subdivision development is handled in-house – but most of the other trades are subbed out.”
An Uncommon Growth
El Paso is growing steadily and strong, and this has allowed Tropicana Homes, which is overseen by Randy, Robert Bowling’s brother, to enjoy consistent activity, earning the company “Builder of the Year” and “Texas Developer of the Year” awards multiple times.
“El Paso is geographically isolated from the rest of the country and we have different forces at work here. As a community, we’re actually not that far off from our 10-year average in home sales,” says Bowling. “One major part of our economic resilience is the fact that the military base here is a major employer in the community, and under the [Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission] BRAC process it was determined to be the single most important strategic base in the military arsenal.”
While many bases are closing or being consolidated with nearby bases, Fort Bliss has grown from 6,500 troops to about 30,000 over the past decade, making El Paso one of the fastest growing cities in America.
“The reality is that the Department of Defense just doesn’t have enough money to provide housing for all of these employees on the base, so there has been a very steady housing boom in the community, which was a really fortunate buffer to the economic slump over the past few years,” says Bowling. “The second part of our housing growth, as morbid as it is, is due to the fact that we are right on the Mexican border and the cartel wars just over the border have forced many Mexican citizens to relocate to a safer community. It’s a totally unique situation in comparison to the rest of the country.”
Tropicana Building Corporation, meanwhile, has built units in areas of greatest needs as an effort to keep up with demand, providing affordable housing to the community. “We recently finished building a new housing development that is smack-dab in the middle of one of the poorest areas in the nation in San Elizario, Texas, which is a colonia community [a type of rural border community defined by HUD],” remarks Bowling.
“We built the San Elizario Palms development to house what is primarily a community of farm workers, but it’s a really nice community. It’s just 80 apartments, but we outfitted it with a community center and a quarter-mile jogging track, as well as accessible apartments for families with special needs. The Bank of America was our lender for the project and they’re really excited about it, because it’s just a great community with a great story.”
Experienced and Optimistic
Tropicana Homes’ commitment to excellence, attention to detail and customer satisfaction is reinforced by the company’s presence in invaluable trade organizations. Bowling is a director of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), a partnership that has become instrumental to the firm’s development and continued growth over the years. “I haven’t missed an NAHB board meeting in six or seven years,” affirms Bowling. “They are just so productive.”
“Especially in the low-income housing market, it’s an incredible resource to be able to meet with the tax credit consulting group, which I attend every year, and the peer-to-peer discussions that the organization fosters are a fantastic way to find new revenue streams,” continues Bowling. “It really helps provide a more national perspective of the housing market and it allows us to stay current with any related legislation that may be passed so we can prepare.”
This knowledge is imperative because the firm expects to grow as the population of El Paso flourishes. “We have a very young population here and there is a lot of pent up demand for affordable housing, as there is on a national level,” says Bowling. “The outlook for El Paso is really good, because Fort Bliss is continuing to expand.”
Concentrating not on being the cheapest, or even the biggest, but instead on being the best, the Bowling family and their Tropicana companies will continue building El Paso communities for generations to come.
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